Category Archives: Life On The Ranch

Welcome Home Gentle Giant

Our bull’s injury is the biggest news this week from Medicine Spirit Ranch. Curly, our Charolais bull, recently developed an unwillingness to place weight on his right back leg. His ankle swelled and he hobbled around on just three legs. After loading him into the trailer and hauling him across town to our vet’s clinic, we learned why this was. Curly had developed an abscess from a cut on his hoof. Ouch! That must have really hurt, big guy.

Curly, our Charolais bull

Hauling Curly is always a memorable experience. Our small cattle trailer can hold up to ten calves but hauling them is less difficult than when hauling Curly by himself.  He is so large he weighs down the trailer such that the back end of the pickup and the trailer hitch reach almost to the ground. When Curly shifts his weight in the trailer, the whole pickup lurches. It makes for quite a ride. Our vet, who sees plenty of bulls in his work, even commented on what a large but gentle bull he is.

Curly spent a week at the vet’s receiving antibiotics. During this time he was limited to a stall, a large one but limiting for sure. I don’t recall him ever being confined before, and he didn’t like it. I know he was hurting, but somehow I think his apparent discontent resulted less from his injury and more from his unusual location and lack of his herd.

I may be over interpreting, but Curly did not look happy at the vet’s. This proud king-of-his-herd guy was dirty, seemed to have lost interest in what was going around him, and appeared to mope. These are not typical behaviors for our Charolais bull. Can bulls become depressed? He sure looked it.

After recently receiving the call from the clinic saying he was ready to come home. I attached the trailer to my pickup. I headed into town to load and haul Curly back to his ranch, his green pastures, and his waiting herd. The herd had even expanded in his absence by three new calves.

While Curly still moves around slowly, he now does so on all four hooves. We no longer have a three legged bull which I consider a very good thing. I don’t think Curly would be able to do his job on one hind leg.  Curly also appears happier now that he is back at his own ranch.

Our gentle giant- “Open wide for a range cube”

 

GUESS IT JUST GOES TO SHOW, OUR GENTLE GIANT IS A HOMEBODY.

Buddy, “Nice to see you again Curly.”

Bonus Calves

Woo hoo!!! Three bonus calves were born this week. That is, mama cows purchased in September with calves already by their side, and now have given birth to yet another unanticipated calf. The average price for the pair, now the trio, just went down. What a bargain!

Surprise, bet you weren’t expecting me!

The bonus calves have white faces with the remainder black or brown. Our Charolais bull does not throw this color calf with our Black Baldies, but instead throws smoky colored calves, light brown or gray. Also the cow gestation period of nine and a half months just doesn’t work for our Charolais bull. Sorry Curly you can’t claim parentage!

Curly, the bonus calves stepdaddy

These are small calves compared to our usual smoky calves. With an Angus daddy, the calves start  smaller than with a Charolais daddy.  All three of the bonus calves are heifers. Perhaps I will let them grow and given their different genetics, make them into new producers for the ranch. Now that is an additional bonus.

The first bonus heifer at one week of age. Note smoky calf on right and a longhorn/charlolais cross in foreground

Baby calves are so cute no matter their lineage. Must admit though when I saw the first I took a double take. You can imagine my surprise after the third. Life is sweet. Spring calves are one of the highlights of springtime on our cattle ranch. Hoping you too find bonuses in your lives during this lovely season.

Spring Bluebonnets

As predictable as spring calves in Texas are the coming of bluebonnets. These surprisingly hardy flowers grow along the roadside, in pastures, and even in bad soil. The bluebonnets and other wild flowers were once so widespread in Texas that a 19th century Texas Ranger once wrote that he could ride all day and never get off a carpet of wild flowers. The bluebonnets were said to be stirrup high and at times even to impede his progress. Forcing him to slow up and focus on nature’s beauty may have had behavioral benefits.

Considering that Texas Rangers were usually in pursuit of cattle rustlers, murderers, horse thieves, and Comanche on the warpath what an impact the peaceful bluebonnet must have had. Despite the violent ways of men, the hardy flower would grow and thrive and suggest a peaceful, calming effect for all.

Unsurprisingly, the bluebonnet became the official State flower of Texas. Rest assured this wild flower was around long before Texans. The Native Americans in this area, principally the Comanche, had a legend as to how the bluebonnet came about.

Since Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch derives from the “strong medicine” offered this area by this earlier culture, it only seems appropriate to share the Comanche legend on the origin of Bluebonnets here. It is as follows:

Comanche Long ago upon the great plains of Texas a young Comanche child named Stars-In-The-Sky lived with her family in her small Indian wicoti mitawa ( whi-coe-tee mi-tah-wah ), which means village. Each morning before the Wi ( wee ), sun rose in the Skan ( skhan ), sky Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota ( mahtoe’ – hoe -tah ), Grizzly Bear would leave their little village with the other warriors to go hunting for tatanka ( tah-tahn-kah ) buffalo. Lately when the warriors came back to the village in the han-yetu ( hahn-yeetoo ), nighttime no buffalo would have been sighted. Without the buffalo to provide for all their needs, Stars-In-The-Sky’s village slowly began to starve.Months passed and the summer days came into being. As is usual in Texas, summer drought dried up the rain and drove the smaller animals into the deep piney woods far from Stars-In-The-Sky’s village. With the smaller animals gone and the buffalo not yet returning to the area surrounding her tribe, the men turned to the guidance of Keema the Wicasa Wankan ( wih-cahsa wahn-kahn ) Holy Man of the village. Keema decided the warriors of the village must raise their voices together and pray to Nagi Tanka ( nahgee tahn-kah ), the Great Spirit, to ask for the rain to fall and the buffalo to come back.

One night later, when the moon was full in the sky, Keema gathered the men on a high bluff overlooking the village and plains. With one old, gnarled hand clutch around a burning cedar bow, Keema thrust the burning stick into a large pile of branches that had been gathered by the women and younger girls of the village earlier in the day.

The Holy Man stretched his arms to the sky and pleaded with the Great Spirit, ” Hey-Ay-Hee-Ee, Nagi Tanka! Bring back the rain, bring back the buffalo!” Deep into the night Keema prayed until his voice was rough and feeble from his freverent prayers and his eyes gritty and tired with unshed tears.

As Stars-In-The-Sky lay in her tepee listening to the sounds from the bluff, she wondered what she could do to help her family and the people she loved. She pondered what she, such a small girl, could give the Great Spirit to make him happy. Stars-In-The-Sky’s pride and joy was a small, handmade, leather doll her family had made her on her last birthday when she had turned eight years old. Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota (grizzly bear) had caught all the animals needed for the skins to make the doll’s body and dress. Her Ina’ ( eenah ) mother, had taken the time to dye and bead the small dress, and had used hair off her own scalp to make the dolly’s long, beautiful braids. Even her small brother Ki-ri-ki ( kee-ree-kee ), Bright Eyes had helped by donating a bluejay feather he had found last spring when the first bluejays had crossed in the sky. Stars-In-The-Sky was very proud of her doll.

With all of this running through her mind, Stars-In-The-Sky decided the best thing to do was to give her favorite thing to the Great Spirit. When she herd the men come back to the village and her father come into the teepee, she pretended to be asleep. As soon as her father fell into a deep, steady sleep Stars-In-The-Sky crept out of her sleeping furs and into the still night.

Her doll clutched in her trembling hand, she made her way up to the still glowing embers of the bonfire on the bluff. Holding her doll tightly to her chest and crying softly Stars-In-The-Sky started praying, “Hey – Ay- Hee- Ee, Nagi Tanka!

I am but a small, insignificant girl but I am trying wohitika (woah-hit-tih-kah ) to be brave. My younger brother is so hungry as is my whole village. Give me a So-an-ge-ta-ha ( soh- ahn – gee- tah- hah ) strong heart, Nagi Tanka. I beg you! Except my dolly as a gift in exchange for my village, my people, my family. I beg you! Pilimaya Nagi Tanka! ( pill- ah- mae- yah nahgee tahn-kah ) thank you, Great Spirit.”

As Stars-In-The-Sky finished her prayer she gave her beloved doll one last hug and then threw it into the fire. She turned away from the fire, paused to look over her shoulder one last time, saw the fire catch the dolly’s buckskin dress fire, and then walked proudly back to the village.

The next morning Stars-In-The-Sky was awakened by loud shouts outside her teepee. She crawled out of her sleeping furs and went to the tent flap to see what all the commotion was about. As Stars-In-The-Sky looked out she was amazed by what she saw. All over the prairie and covering the surrounding hills grew a strange, bright, blue flower the same color blue as a springtime bluejay feather.

For Stars-In-The-Sky and her village this flower was a blessing from Nagi Tanka. They found they could eat this flower and hold off starvation. With this flower as an ample supply of food small game came back into the area. When the buffalo came back, the large herds seemed to love this new blue flower.

The Comanche tribe called this flower Buffalo Grass in honor of the returning herds. When the wasichu( wah- sih -shoe ) white man came into this part of the country and made it into the state of Texas they renamed and adopted it as the state flower; The Texas Bluebonnet.


Spring- How Lovely You Are

Bluebonnets & Paints

Spring is my favorite season. How can it not be? It’s is a colorful rebirth following the grayness of winter. New fawns and calves on wobbly legs appear, baby birds fly tentatively from their nests, calves wear milky mustaches, bushes blossom, multicolored wild flowers including the locally favorite bluebonnets suddenly erupt, and the trees leaf out in spring green. All signal the yearly, joyous rebirth and infuses us with new found energy, hope, and ambition.

Along with such beauty comes a need to prepare the ranch for the season. In past weeks we’ve taken to whacking down thistle plants (weeds) choosing to grow in my pastures and crowding out grass my stock so greatly needs. The spring calves have needed working and the horses show new found friskiness.

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc’s nose

A foggy day at the ranch

Fences require mending and cedar needs lopping. The physical work feels good but also fatigues me now more than it used to.

Life seems more vivid, more intense, and hopeful in the springtime. It’s also busier and wearing. Gosh, I love it so and hope i can keep up with it all. A joyous spring to all!

A Farewell To…A Heron

I’ve written several blog pieces lately on a Great Blue Heron that has daily visited our stock tank. The heron and I have developed a predictable morning routine.  Initially I find it perched atop a tree on the opposite bank. Then I throw fish food into the pond. I backtrack to my pickup from where I watch the heron glide gracefully across the stock tank (what a sight with its immense six foot wing span), land, and creep to its protected spot alongside the water. There it stealthily awaits a fish meal to swim by. When this occurs and with lightning like reflexes, it dives into the water to retrieve a fish. Our routine has become part of my morning ritual and, frankly, I’ve come to enjoy and expect it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

Imagine my disappointment the past two weeks when the heron has failed to show up. Initially I shrugged it off as happenstance, as the heron had at times missed a single day. Now it seems all too clear that the heron has left our ranch for another lofty perch.

Spring has sprung in the Texas Hill Country. The Red Bud trees have blossomed and the Bluebonnets are up. The Live Oak trees are  changing over their leaves. Perhaps with the changing of the season, the heron has taken on new territory to fish. Alternatively, my heron may have fallen for a mate and been lured away by surging hormones- Spring is known to do that after all. I can only hope my heron has not befallen some worse fate, a consideration I’m loathe to even consider.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled each morning for the Great Blue Heron but fear it has departed the area or at least left my stock tank. If so,it leaves behind both good memories and hopefully good luck. To be sure, I shall miss its gorgeous flight, its prowess at fishing, its gorgeous appearance, its curious waddling gait, and the way it folds itself into a small package just at the edge of the water.

Come to think of it, The Great Blue Heron may just have tired of my bluegill! Why not for a change dine on Guadalupe bass or fat head minnows?

Farewell Great Blue Heron. You will be missed.

Smart And Protective Mama Cows

We are well into spring calving season with four new, adorable calves. Part of their welcome to the ranch is receiving a vaccination to ward off “black leg”, a particularly serious bacterial infection that kills calves. While our intentions are good, they are usually misunderstood by our always protective mama cows.

Such was the case recently when we roped, held, and tried to vaccinate a new calf. Mama cow took serious exception to our treatment her calf this way. While I attempted to give the subcutaneous injection, mama cow suddenly appeared and forcibly head butted me in the face. The syringe went one way, my glasses flew off in another, and I was pitched backwards unceremoniously. With a sore and bruised face and without glasses, I was virtually worthless. I also was quite vulnerable should she have chosen to take out her animus still further. Fortunately for me, she did not.

Somehow Trudy and Juan found both glasses and syringe, and we finished giving the vaccination to the calf without further incident.

I’ve been asked if I get upset with mama cows when such this happens, as this is not the first time something like this has transpired. My answer is no, as the mama cows are only protecting their offspring.

"You think you are going to do what to my calf?"

“You think you are going to do what to my calf?”

Whenever possible we sequester a calf needing a vaccination, an ear tag, or needing castration from the mother cow. We usually use the pens for these tasks and to great benefit .

On occasion we are not able to move a mama cow and her calf,  for example from the new ranch (Hidden Falls) across and down the county road  “a piece” into our other property (Medicine Spirit Ranch) where are located our only pens .  In such instances we are sorely tempted to try the quick and dirty method of lassoing, holding, and giving a vaccination in the pasture. Sometimes this works and in others I end up on my caboose or more commonly seeing the south end of a calf heading rapidly north.

Such was our ill-fated mission this morning accompanied by Trudy, Juan, and visiting “ranch hands”, LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands

As soon as the mama cow spotted Juan creeping up on her calf with his lasso, she took off with her calf  behind her. To vaccinate this calf, we will need to drive the herd down the county road to Medicine Spirit Ranch and to the protection of our pens. This will have to wait until next week.

Such are the joys of ranching. And to think when I was a doctor never once was I injured. Since becoming a rancher, I’ve broken an arm, blew a disc in my low back, sustained bruises, cuts,
and contusions, and received numerous injuries to my male ego. Oh, but my wonderful outdoor existence along with Mother Nature showing off her wonders more than makes up for any challenges faced.

What a Goose Can Teach Us About Change

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Some time ago, I posted a story of a goose joining a goat herd and how it had  become accepted and integrated within it. The goose has now been part of the goat herd for over a year and continues to waddle along inline with the goats as the herd parades single file across the pasture. No doubt the burro and llama also protect the goose from predators, just as they do the goats.
I began wondering why the goose remains in this unusual situation. This is, after all, unnatural as geese flock with other geese. Wouldn’t it prefer to be among a gaggle of its own kind? Flocks of geese have flown overhead the goose and a large flock of geese resides in Lady Bird Park, not more than five miles away as the goose flies. Despite these opportunities to be more goose-like, this goat-loving goose seems perfectly contented to stay a member of its mixed herd. I am aware that if a burro or llama is raised within a goat herd that it develops protective tendencies for the herd and perhaps in a similar way a young goose becomes comfortable with a herd of goats or cattle. I have also seen an example of the latter when two baby geese were raised on a cattle ranch and later joined the cattle herd..

Recently I was visiting with a friend who has his doctorate in counseling psychology and who did his dissertation on the difficulty in making life changes. I shared this unusual goat story with him. He reminded me that we grow up in our specific environments and tend to accept in a unquestioning manner the opinions of our parents and other significant individuals in our lives. As youth we accept these opinions as absolute truths. Later in life when confronted with facts to the contrary, most folks cannot fully embrace the new information enough to change their long held opinions. Instead they often do mental gymnastics in order to cling to their own outmoded views. Change is hard and its threatening.

Why is this? Well according to my friend, Doctor Jim Spruiell who has 50 years of psychotherapy experience, when we venture too far from our traditional comfort zones, we lose the feeling of  safety. We might wish to change, say quit smoking or change our attitudes or ideas, or favorite sports team, religion, or even political party but such things are foreign to our natures and end up threatening our comfort zone. The subconscious has a major impact on our rational behavior even when change may be the logical course of action.

How does this relate to our one unusual goose? While I have no idea how the goose came to find itself among the herd of goats, it apparently has adapted and the herd has fully accepted it. This has become the expected norm for this goose. The inability to break this pattern would call for a leap of faith on the part of the goose and would take it away from its current protected state.

To a degree aren’t we all tribal in this way? We are comfortable within our belief systems, social crowd, political party, fan club, and interest groups. To break out from these comfortable norms creates apprehension and anxiety. These long held emotional roots run deep. While a few people are confident enough or adaptable enough to change their lives based on new facts perhaps gained through advanced education and deep thought, most of us are not. Oftentimes elaborate rationalizations develop for maintaining old beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Maybe this lone goose is not so unusual after all.

"Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?"

“Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?”

To end on a wistful note, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we humans could learn to accept the differences of others. What if we entered a period in our lives which was foreign to us but did so with love and compassion for others, ignoring the differences. This would give rise to overall justice for us and others in our world.